Around this verdant globe, you will find numerous botanical gardens.
Many will have UNIQUE QUALITIES, and some will seem MAGNIFICENT or much like another in their creative and artful displays. But there is one that stands apart—a humble, but studious little gem nestled in the heart of the ANCIENT CITY OF PADUA, twenty-five miles to the west of Venice. So special is this botanical wonder, that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. It holds interest for the plant-lover, the historian, the medically curious, the architecturally or philosophically inclined, and the environmentally conscious.
The Orto botanico di Padova, or Botanical gardens of Padua, began life in 1545, making it the OLDEST CONTINUOUS BOTANICAL GARDENS in the world. Originally, it was created for the study of medicinal plants and has watched the science of botany blossom from that singular occupation to include all study of plants. The garden’s original design still gives it it’s unique look—encompassing a little sacred, symbolic geometry, which soon had to be ringed with a wall in 1552 to protect from early ‘drug’ thieves.
Through the centuries, there have been changes and phases. Various greenhouses have come and gone, but one will find small, utilitarian antique and vintage examples. There is an orchid hothouse amongst other older buildings.
But the garden has survived so long because it has also moved with times and knowledge, becoming not only a home of RESEARCH, but of SPECIES PRESERVATION. A large greenhouse using state-of-the-art green technology, mixed with old fashioned ingenuity, sits in modernist contrast to the early architecture. It makes for a fascinating journey from ancient to futuristic.
The UNESCO World Heritage Convention states,
“For more than five centuries, the Botanical Garden of Padua has represented an exceptional testimony of scientific and cultural significance. Its position, size and main characteristics, as well as its main research and didactic features, have remained essentially unchanged over centuries with a constant adaptation to the most advanced discoveries in botanical and educational sciences.”
When visiting the old part of the gardens, one must imagine the likes of Padua University alumni like Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei walking the cardinally-aligned paths on their way to lectures. Perhaps another alumnus, Giacomo Casanova stole a medicinal rose blossom (Rosa centifolia or gallica) to entice a feminine conquest. And the ‘Goethe Palm’, a dwarf fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) planted in 1585, (and beloved by its namesake) which has its own personally-constructed greenhouse, stands as a testament to mankind’s potential, and particularly, our very special and necessary relationship with plants. This is a garden to be viewed & appreciated with attention to its deep history and contributions to human knowledge.
By Dea Schofield